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Billy Torrence grabs second Top Fuel Countdown win, moves to fourth in points

It took a little bit of final-round luck but Billy Torrence won for the second time in the Countdown, defeating tire-smoking rookie Jordan Vandergriff for the Top Fuel crown.
20 Oct 2019
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Race coverage
Billy Torrence

Billy Torrence tried to give away the final, but it wouldn’t take. After a late reaction time of .319, he watched Jordan Vandergriff streak into the distance then smoke the tires. Torrence stayed on the gas and passed the rookie to collect his second win of the Countdown and the second straight at this event for the Torrence family. He now sits in fourth place, just 71 points out of first.

"I was going to deep stage to get a little better light and missed the whole deal and threw my concentration off," he admitted. "I was sitting there long enough to see [Vandergriff] leave. I just said, 'Hold my beer and watch this.' We caught him pretty quick; even though we didn't have the best driver in the final, we had the best car., and we should: It's a clone of the best car on the planet. We had a lot of Capco employees here and friends; we entertained at least 200 people this weekend and I think a good time was had by all. We're going to go to the next two races and hopefully do a little better job than we did this weekend and race for the championship. If I beat Steve I would probably have to move from my home. You know how moms are with their sons."

Torrence’s black-over-white Capco Contractors machine was consistent through the first three rounds, running 3.737 to defeat Terry McMillen in round one, 3.767 to defeat Shawn Reed, and 3.747 in the semifinals to defeat low qualifier Brittany Force, who fought a car that wanted to drift right to the guardwall yet still posted a 3.79 in the loss.

Force, trying to take advantage of the early exits of those in front of her in points, was fortunate to advance not the semifinals after her mount dropped two cylinders early against Antron Brown, but Brown’s Matco machine started to lose traction downtrack and ultimately backfired the blower, allowing her 3.81 to move on.

Top Fuel had kicked off with a pair of huge upsets as three of the top four in points went out. No upset was bigger than Reed taking down points leader Steve Torrence, beating him by .003-second to put to an end his bid for a second straight cowboy hat. In a pre-race interview, Reed had confidently said, “I plan on dancing on a couple of cowboy hats today.” The dancing ended there as he lost to Billy, in round two.

Lee Callaway, making his first start in Top Fuel after a successful career in Top Alcohol Dragster, not only qualified for his first race but won his first round, too, sending fourth-place Mike Salinas home early while Austin Prock blasted to a 3.688 at a track-record 334.40 mph to take down second-place Doug Kalitta.

Prock’s Montana Brand/Rocky Mountain Twist rail looked good from the opening run of elimination, posting a 3.68 at a track-speed-record 334.40, then followed with 3.742 to defeat fourth-place Leah Pritchett before falling to Vandergriff in the semi’s.

Vandergriff was hoping to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr., who won his first career Top Fuel Wally at this event in 2011 after 13 frustrating runner-ups.

Jordan wasn’t that far up the frustration scale, having reached the semifinals in his debut in Phoenix earlier this year and having also reached the final four in Atlanta and Denver. His D-A Lubricants dragster defeated Clay Millican in round one and Callaway in round two before squaring off with Prock, who had beaten him twice already this year, in Houston and Reading. Vandergriff avenged those losses and boosted his hopes of competing with Prock for the Auto Club Road to the Future award given to the year’s top rookie.